Although there’s no such thing as an indestructible interior, there are steps you can take to make your home stand up better to kids and pets. One key element is the kind of paint you choose. The right blend, finish and color can make a difference in how the paint wears and resists grime and abuse.
Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice.
Not all paints are created equal. In the world of paint, price is usually a good determinant of quality, says Robin Daly, the president (aka “Paint Princess”) of Daly’s Paint & Decorating. So is weight. A good-quality paint contains less water, more solids and a finer quality of titanium oxide and resin. That means more of the color actually ends up on the wall, giving you a more durable surface. It will also maintain its looks longer.
Oil change. The most common types of paint are oil based and water borne. (You might know the latter as latex, but nowadays it’s typically an acrylic-based paint, which wears better.) While oil-based paint has traditionally been the tougher of the two, advances in water-borne paint have made it nearly as durable, and you don’t have to suffer through the painstaking cleanup, smell, yellowing and environmental hazard that you get with oil-based paints. (To reduce environmental impact even more, choose a low-VOC or no-VOC paint that produces fewer volatile organic compounds.)
There are times when oil based is better, Daly concedes. But in most applications, a water-borne paint should be your first choice.
The big finish. In high-traffic areas or rooms that will be used by children and pets, go for a paint with a little sheen, because it will be easier to clean. “With families and dogs, you want something durable, but you don’t want it to look like that first apartment you rented, with shiny walls,” says Daly. That’s why she recommends an eggshell finish, which has the least possible sheen but is easier to clean than flat paint, and has a smooth surface (unlike flat), so dirt has nothing to grab on to.
Satin, the paint with the next-higher level of shine, is also an option, although some consider the finish a little colder. The reflective finish also tends to make imperfections in walls easier to see.
Touch-ups. Despite your best efforts, kids will be kids, and the wall might get soiled, burnished or drawn upon. Daly’s first line of defense for cases like that is Krud Kutter, a nontoxic cleaner that removes almost anything you throw at it. (In fact, she gives it to newlyweds as a gift.)
If Krud Kutter doesn’t “kut” it, you may need to repaint the damaged area. That’s harder than it sounds, as it’s difficult to paint a small area without the patch showing. The new coating will affect the thickness of the paint and the density of the color, causing the area to reflect light differently.
You best bet is to repaint that whole section of wall. If you don’t want to do that, try feathering the edges of the patch into the surrounding area, using a disposable foam brush. The touch-up will be easier to hide on light- or medium-colored surfaces.
Alternative easels. Amy Luff of Viva Luxe Studios in Virginia likes to placate budding Picassos by giving them a place where it’s OK to draw on the walls. Cover a surface in their bedroom or the family room with chalkboard paint or dry-erase paint, and turn them loose — with the understanding that that’s the only place in the house where drawing on the walls is permitted.
And if all else fails, Daly says, “keep the Sharpies stored somewhere else.”
Color. Don’t feel like you have to go with a neutral just because you have kids who leave dirty fingerprints. “I wouldn’t get hung up on getting gray or beige to hide things,” says Sherri Blum of Jack and Jill Interiors, a Pennsylvania nursery design company. “If you want bright white, just do it — just get a really high-quality paint in a satin finish.”
If you want a color, you’ll have fewer problems if you avoid darker colors. A wall that’s red, for instance, will often get a shiny mark — called a burnish — if you rub against it. Pale colors and midtones are less susceptible to burnishing.
Don’t forget the ceiling. Bouncing balls and wads of Play-Doh have a habit of finding their way onto the ceiling, so minimize damage by using one of the new washable flat paints there. And, again, go with a good-quality paint if you can afford it, as it will provide better protection from abuse.